Thursday, March 28, 2019

THE SALT PATH :: Raynor Winn

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Raynor Winn and Moth, her husband of 32 years, are living a nightmare at the start of Winn's memoir, The Salt Path. Having lost everything, they huddle under the stairs of their lovingly restored farm haven, hiding from the bailiffs come to evict them. Tragically, losing their business and home isn't the worst of it. The day after the judge's decision, they finally have time to follow up on Moth's ongoing shoulder pain and learn he's terminally ill.

Peering at packing boxes, Winn spies a copy of Five Hundred Mile Walkies, Mark Wallington's story of traversing the South West Coast Path, England's longest footpath. Homeless, penniless, with two kids at university and a bleak future, they look at each other and think, "What the f*ck, let's go for a walk." Despite the doctor's admonitions that Moth not get cold, tire himself, walk too far, carry heavy weight or look too far ahead, they fill their packs and head out for the 630-mile trek.

Winn's chronicle is filled with beauty, humor and surprises. Glorious landscape a given, the loveliest scenery is the pair themselves, their affection and easy camaraderie treasures to behold. Facing grief, harsh elements, starvation and judgment about being homeless, they relish growing feelings of achievement and purpose. When, miraculously, Moth starts to feel better, their future grows more unclear. The Salt Path is a great travelogue of surroundings, passersby and local merchants, but its heart is in Winn and Moth finding meaning in the chaos.

STREET SENSE: The lives of a husband and wife are transformed by financial ruin and terminal illness, then by their decision to walk a 630-mile coastal path in England. I loved most of this read, particularly the repartee between Winn and Moth. Although the premise starts with a downer, there is strength, humor (it becomes obvious Moth is being mistaken for some lookalike celebrity) and resilience. It sometimes became a teensy bit tiresome and repetitive (passing people on the path) for my particular wheelhouse, but it was easy enough to give a quick skim to those parts and carry on with the journey. If you're a fan of nature, comeback (kind of) stories and interesting couples, add this one to your list.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  The first few times we'd been asked how it was that we had time to walk so far and for so long, we had answered truthfully: "Because we're homeless, we lost our home..." People recoiled and the wind was silenced by their sharp intake of breath. In every case the conversation ended abruptly and the other party walked away very quickly. So we invented a lie that was more palatable. For them and for us. We had sold our home, looking for a midlife adventure...That met with gasps of "wow, brilliant, inspirational." What was the difference between the two stories? Only one word, but one word that in the public perception meant everything: "sold." We could be homeless, having sold our home and put money in the bank, and be inspirational. Or we could be homeless, having lost our home and become penniless, and be social pariahs.

COVER NERD SAYS: I have a hard time resisting an ocean scene, especially one with a craggy shoreline and wildlife. I found this cover art really beautiful, particularly how the hikers are almost an afterthought in the grand scheme of nature. I did completely miss the very small (and sideways) note that this is a memoir, and was surprised to find this was non-fiction. It didn't really matter and is probably chalked up to my in attention to detail. In my defense, I was captivated by the font and the ocean drawing. Other than that being more clearly stated, I love this cover.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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